Most of us know how to read a tape measure but there are a few things you probably don't know about a standard tape that may help you. First let's explain the measuring increments on a tape starting with the inch marks.
How To Read a Tape Measure
Obviously if you have a fairly standard tape you will have the inch increments all marked and numbered. In between each numbered inch increment there will be a series of small lines and exactly half way between each numbered increment is the longest line and this will be the half inch mark. There is only 1 of these ½ inch marks between each numbered inch increment.
Next longest line is the ¼ inch mark. There are 2 of these ¼ inch marks between each numbered inch increment. These two ¼ inch marks divide an inch into four sections. Each section represents a ¼ inch and an easy association to that would be to think about it like an inch is a $1. Four quarters (.25 cents) = $1.
The next line would be the 1/8 inch mark. There are 4 of these marks between each numbered inch increment. These four 1/8 inch measuring marks divide the inch into 8 sections. Each section represents a 1/8 inch and there are eight of these sections in an inch. The next line will be the 1/16 inch mark and between each increment there are 8 of these marks. Therefore 16 sections here make up the full inch increment. Some tapes have even smaller increments between the inch marks and the next one down is the 1/32. Rarely are these 1/32 inch increments used in every day carpentry or woodwork by average individuals doing there own carpentry projects.
Next if you are looking at a tape measure you will see the 1 foot marks highlighted in some manner. Each foot mark represents 12 inches and is numbered accordingly to how many inches equals 1 foot. So at the 1 foot mark it will be highlighted with 12 inches. The next foot mark would be highlighted and the highlighted number would be 24 and then highlighted at 36 for 3 feet and so on.
On most tape measures the 16 inch mark will be highlighted in some manner also. Starting at 16 inches then the 32 inch mark then the 48 and so on. These are highlighted because in carpentry a standard wall in residential construction is framed at 16 inches on center. What this means is each 2x6 stud (board) inside the wall is spaced 16 inches apart from the center of one stud to the next and so on for the whole length of a standard wall.
Hint for finding studs; when you are trying to find a stud in a wall don't expect to put your end of the tape in a corner measure out 16 inches or 32 inches and expect to hit a stud every time because you won't. You have to start at the starting point of which the wall was laid out during construction. Most times it's either one corner or the opposite corner. Some circumstances during construction can even throw this off and this is where a good electronic stud finder comes in handy.
Do You Know This?
On some tape measures you will see some black diamond markings at the 19.2 inch mark. The diamonds are every 19.2" and are most commonly used to set floor trusses at that spacing. Think: 96" (8'sheeting) divided by 5 = 19.2. Floor trusses are commonly set at 12", 16", 19.2", or 24" on center all divisible by 8', allowing the floor sheeting to work out.
Another interesting thing about a tape measure is that the hook on the end moves. This is quite normal and this is because it moves to make up for the thickness of the hook. This means that if you hook your tape it will stretch out and if you butt your tape for the same measurement it will go in which will result in the same measured distance.
All the tapes are not exactly the same and can come in the different measuring methods. A tape can also come with metric measurements included on the tape or all metric so be aware of this when you are buying a tape. Some may or may not include all of the aspects we have discussed here.